The church meets in Morden Mount Primary School in what appeared to be the school gym, though there were hints that the room may have doubled up as a theatre. The only external sign was a single banner waving about in the breeze, after which one follows a series of arrows leading round the side of a wheelchair accessible building.
The church is part of the Vineyard movement, a neocharismatic church begun by John Wimber in the US around the late 1970s/early 1980s. This movement spread to the UK in 1987, with the first church opening in south-west London under the leadership of John and Eleanor Mumford (parents of Marcus Mumford, the lead singer of Mumford & Sons). From the notices, the impression is that most church activity revolves around the meal table. The week prior to my visit, there had been sausage sandwiches served before the meeting, and almost every mid-week activity involved food in one way or another. As well as having small groups and a breakfast club, the church also supports Christians Against Poverty and hosts The Marriage Course. The church has recently undergone a change of leadership. The current senior pastor, Paul Bickley, is also a director of the Christian think tank Theos.
Morden Mount Primary School is located on the border between the London boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham, in the shadow of a number of mid-high tower blocks. Head just a little further north, though, and you will find yourself in the more affluent area of Greenwich, with its major attractions including the Royal Park, the Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory.
The service was led by the senior pastors, Becca and Paul Bickley. They also preached alternately.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
After the latecomers had arrived, I counted 35 people in total. It was full of a young demographic, with about a quarter of the church under the age of 10, with most of the rest being parents under the age of 45. It wasn't a large room and most of the seats were taken.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Almost as soon as I walked in, Becca spotted me as a visitor and made a beeline for me. I spoke to her and to Paul, as well as several other members of the church, all of whom were curious as to where I came from. I got the impression that they weren't used to visitors.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had plastic chairs that had their own padding. Mine was placed a little too close to the seat next to it, so I had to pull it over subtly to one side. I had thought it was fairly comfortable, but about two-thirds of the way through the sermon I found myself getting a bit of discomfort in my lower back.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church website said that people should arrive at 10.15 for pre-service coffee and be ready for a start at 10.30. So it was surprising at how sparse it was when I came in at 10.20. A handful of people were standing around chatting with their cups in hand. No one made a move toward their seats until 10.35 and the service started shortly after. Even then, people arrived long after the service had begun.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to Trinity Vineyard but you knew that already."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
On each chair was placed a Bible Today's New International Version. This was the only literature available handed out, though I later found a table with a few leaflets and gift aid envelopes on it. All the songs were projected on a screen (more on this below), as were the notices.
What musical instruments were played?
Someone playing a keyboard backed up the worship leader, who was playing an acoustic guitar.
Did anything distract you?
At the start of the service, the children were a little restless. Their antics included rolling a small ball along the floor, which came perilously close to some of the coffee cups on the floor. We were lucky not to have a spillage. As the children were being sent out to their own groups, Paul prayed that they might be less annoying. He later admitted it was a point that perhaps he should have repented of. With it being a warm summer day, the door was left open, and at one point a squirrel popped its head in to have a look around before scampering off.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was a good balance of old hymns and more modern worship songs, but all sung in a modern style. The sung worship, which opened the service, seemed to go on for some time. We then moved into the notices, and the service finished with the sermon. It felt very segmented, with clear divisions between each part of the service. The church celebrates communion on the first and third Sundays of the month, so there was none on the day I visited. As one might expect from a charismatic church, there was virtually no liturgy and no processions. It was all done very simply, without pomp or ceremony. The most unusual feature of the service was that there was a half time break for people to resume their pre-service chats and have another cup of coffee.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Both Becca and Paul spoke well and with an admirable amount of humility. They took turns in speaking, though Paul took up slightly more time than Becca did. Paul's parts were littered with references to the geeky side of popular culture, including the films Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Avatar.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was the start of a new series entitled "The Dream," taking inspiration from Martin Luther King. What might happen if one had suddenly to abandon the life of comfort that many have settled for? Becca and Paul had both been made redundant on the same day at their old position. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 (the ministry of repentance) and adopt it as the scriptural base for one's vision. While one could spend a lot of time teasing out the dense theology within that passage, we need to see that it's not just doctrine. St Paul is writing as a person. He is inviting us to join a movement of reconciliation that was initiated by God. Think about the heart (an image of a heart was then presented) blood is not only pumped out, but it is drawn in again. That's how the Church's mission should be. It should not only send people out, but it must draw them in again. God sees us and loves us, and we are to be swallowed up in God's life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the end of the service, in a moment of silent prayer, someone started spontaneously to sing. Most of the church joined in, as several people opted to kneel. It was a lovely, transcendental moment of worship, with the church moving as the Spirit breathed.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The screen on which the words were projected was quite low, so being sat on the third (and back) row, I had my view frequently obscured by taller people in front of me. This could get quite annoying after a while, unless you know the words to the songs and no longer need to read them.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Having spoken to many people before the service and during the break, I was mostly left to my own devices as people either drifted off or assisted with packing down the church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee, which was actually served before the service, was fair trade filter coffee served in a paper cup. It was really rather good. It wasn't overpoweringly strong, but was full of flavour. It was accompanied by a selection of biscuits.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If charismatic evangelicalism is your thing, then this small community would make a lovely home. If you're from a different tradition but are nearby, do drop in for a warm welcome and ecumenical friendship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It left me feeling glad, but also challenged.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The idea of a church that is led by the Spirit but fuelled by caffeine.